🎥 Race Analysis: How to Attack the Start of an XC MTB Race (2020 Folsom Lake TBF MTB Expert)


Shouldn’t this video be called “How to NOT Attack the Start of an XC MTB Race” since @Nate_Pearson waited for everyone else to start before he got going…

Loved the video though. Lots of great tips and insight from @Jonathan. I just started XC racing last year and immediately noticed how uncomfortable a lot of rides get when you are right behind them. I had a number of racers just tell me to please pass them. I suppose at the higher level events this would be uncommon but it struck a chord when @Jonathan discussed in this video.

Keep the XC videos coming!


Would the tips regarding the first 10mins, constantly trying to move forward instead of settling behind someone early on etc… be applicable towards CX racing too? I don’t race mtb, but xco and cx seem to be similar enough where there could be a lot of overlap to the race strategy…or am I way off base here?

Yes, absolutely!

Another question is what is the tipping point in terms of race length where a hard charging start might be counter productive.

For example, for a long race like Leadville, charging hard out of the starting line trying to pick off a lot of people before the St. Kevins climb seems like a strategy that would sting you later in the race.

But what about some like a 2.5 or 3 hour XC race? Is it still worth a hard charging start at that distance?


I’m also interested in the question @Kuttermax asked regarding the first 10 minutes in a longer XCM race (both for half-marathons lasting 2.5-3 hours as well as for full marathons lasting 6+ hours). And in addition to that, I’d like to know how we should pace after those first 10 minutes on those longer races. Jonathan mentioned staying in the Sweetspot zone in Nate’s case, but then again, that was a short race. What about those longer ones?

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Great video and insight!

Biggest take away being “if you catch up to someone, you are faster. PASS” took me a while to really learn this one but it’s a game changer.

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No matter the length of the event, go flat out at the start, I’ve applied this to everything from XC to 12 hour races. After a while you’ll find your natural pace you want to ride at which can depend on the duration. Also, it works well as you’ll end up in a decent group or get less bogged down in the technical sections.

As for pacing, this is where learning to ride on feel makes the difference as there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to ride at a certain pace during any points of the event. For example, if you’ve not fuelled correctly, you won’t be riding at sweet spot.

Regarding XCM and MTB 100s, this depends in part if you’re racing for the win or short of the podium. If you are racing for the win, generally you’ll need to stay with the front group. So in this instance you’ll have to put in whatever effort is required by the pace of the race leader/s. This would require a hard effort in the beginning to get separation and be in the lead as the course narrows to singletrack. This is so you’re stuck behind a train of slower riders. Then as the race continues the pace of the leaders will slow to be more manageable until attacks happen.

If you’re not racing for the podium but a good mid pack finish, you’ll want to put in an effort in the beginning to get ahead of slower riders and limit bogging down when you get to singletrack. This is not an all out XC race beginning effort, but certainly more than what your pace will be for the entire event. Then after this initially surge, you can settle in what you expect your pace to be for the day. If you’re not racing for the win, you don’t want others’ pace to dictate yours. It’s easy to get caught up in the beginning when you feel fresh and full of adrenaline, but this will cost you later in the race.

I’ve found that you can use a PM to ensure you’re not putting in too much effort early on or burning too many matches. So after the initial 10 min surge if you notice you’re putting out SS effort, you’ll have to recognize that this is not practical for a 3+ hour effort. A big point made in the video is all of the 400 and 500 watt efforts that add up over the course of the event. While in the moment it doesn’t feel that hard but it will cost you later. I can remember my last MTB 100 (Marji Gesick 100), where in the first 30 mins of the race I was with a group what was “easing” up a 2 track hill. People were passing me up the hill as if it were the end of the race. When we reached the top of this 3-4 min hill and were costing down I said “hey guys that was a nice little 450 watt plus effort”. Everyone was surprised as it didn’t feel like that and we all had 12+ hours of racing remaining (17 hours in my case).


I wonder if this is the same for 12 hour pairs. We have always sent out the fastest rider first for this reason. But there are alot of riders in various categories racing and there tends to be a bottle neck, with people at a stand still. I feel like it’s a waste of the fastest rider (not me).
I guess the only way around it is to get to the start early, go off the front and put everything into getting ahead before the bottle neck.
This is a skill worth learning regardless. I went to the front of a none grided mass start once and was told (as a 5 foot 3 inch female) that I should get back a bit or else I " WILL (emphasised) get mown down".
I think it’s about practicing race starts and being confident with what I can do and placing myself near ( not at) the front for none gridded mass starts.
And maybe not be chatty. Just focus. That way I will get less “advice”.

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If it’s non gridded and you are allowed to line up at the front then those comments are uncalled for. They should have gotten to the line earlier if they want to be in front of you.
However, if someone is more of a beginner then maybe they shouldn’t line up ahead of a crowd of pros. But regardless, I would definitely ignore that kind of ‘advice’.

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Great points, @MI-XC. I haven’t done much post race analysis and I found it fascinating how @Jonathan and @Nate_Pearson were looking at 400W 10 second intervals and 500W 5 second intervals. I would have never known to look at those numbers. My FTP is about 250 and found that my CA races had almost twice the amount of 400W intervals than my CO races. (I live and train in CO). ie, 80 intervals at 400W 10s in CA and 30-40 in CO for similar 12 mile races that take about an hour.

How do you apply post race analysis to future races? It’s fun to look at, but not sure how it will change my training or racing tactics??

Any other metrics I should be looking at?

Great thread!!

Won my first XCO race this weekend against a pretty big field, pushing 40 riders. Watched this video twice prior to raceday. While I’m sure they wish the quality was better (stuff happens) the info was still super helpful.

2 things that stood out to me that I really did repeat in my head over and over again.

Don’t recall exactly what was said but I basically went as hard as I could go the first 10 minutes before even thinking about settling in. I didn’t hold back at all and after a terrible start (right up there with Nate but went from 1st on the line to 10th in about 3 pedal strokes) I knew that I had to burn a few matches to get back to the front. Went from 10th to 3rd on the first climb and never hesitated going around other riders.

That was basically the 2nd take away which @Jonathan recommend, which was when I did make it to the front of the race, I let the riders I was about to overtake know way in advance that I was coming. I usually gave them a 5ish second warning where I was close enough to know they could hear me but I didn’t expect them to immediately just pull over. So 5 seconds away, “race leader requesting a pass” or something to that effect. Most people would find a good line for them in that 5 seconds and I would easily and safely pass. At times I would get on their wheel and ask them again, usually riding right up on them they would immediately slow and let me by. Of the 40+ folks I passed (from earlier categories) only one had a real problem letting me by. Not my preference but if you ask 3 times and they won’t let you around you just have to take what’s yours. So being assertive but friendly and not just sitting comfortably behind someone I just rode up on, definitely helped.

So the short version…

  1. Get yourself to roughly where you want to be early in the race even if it means burning some matches to get their. Other people are going hard too so everyone is hurting. Just be willing to hurt a little more.

  2. Every rider I caught I would refuse to let myself catch my breath behind them. If I wanted a quick rest I would pass first, get some distance and then maybe back off for a handful of seconds. But every rider I caught I made it a point to immediately pass. Definitely was a huge advantage for me and killed any thought of complacency. You can rest going a much faster speed in front of someone you just easily caught than you can trying to rest behind them. Just add another 5ish seconds of pain, get around them and then catch your breath if necessary once you are safely ahead of them.


Where was the race? Under 12 inches of snow here in Colorado!

Texas! I think the race start was around 63 degrees :wink:

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Same. I usually call out “rider up” when I’m 5 seconds out. Then when I’m a couple bike lengths I say “pass ya where it’s safe”? I follow the “ask”, “tell” then “take” mindset when passing.


Yep, I think it’s important to distinguish between a rider purposefully slowing someone down as a tactic and a rider finding a space to let someone pass safely.
In Nate’s race it looked like you’d just need to let the rider be aware you’re passing as there was plenty of room. If I find myself with less room to let someone pass I shout something like “when it’s safe” then as soon as possible choose a line and shout “on my right” /“go”.
That way I get to pick my own line :wink:
I pass people how I like to be passed.
“When it’s safe”
“On your right/left”

Loved this video, would love another with better quality!

That’s coming! I just did another race yesterday and I think the camera was good.


The full length video of the race gets much better after Nate cleans up the camera during the middle of the race. So check out the full length vid.

I think that Nate did a good job - as a quasi-public figure - in being patient with one particular racer who didn’t move aside until a second racer caught up behind Nate.